With Cleveland’s downtown skyline on the horizon, vestiges of historic League Park and its freshly restored ticket office (above, right) are prepared for a grand reopening this summer as a public baseball facility — though with nary a mention of the pro football history that was made here.
Off and on from 1937 through 1945, the NFL’s Cleveland Rams, much like their baseball counterparts the Indians, toggled their home games between two stadia of contrastingly extreme sizes: League Park (capacity 22,000) and giant Cleveland Municipal Stadium (77,000). Four League Park games in 1945 delivered wins as the Rams marched to the NFL title over the Washington Redskins, in a championship game moved downtown to the Stadium so the Rams could cash in on much larger anticipated attendance. (Mission accomplished: Even with near-zero temperatures, the contest reaped a record gate for the then fairly new idea of an NFL championship game.)
League Park was a pretty snug and accommodating facility for football. Fans were close to the field, certainly closer than at Cleveland Stadium, and bleachers that snaked around the third-base foul pole toward a scoreboard in dead center furnished sublime end-zone views. A 32-foot-high wall for baseball, now replicated exactly as the original, paralleled the gridiron’s east/west-running sideline, meaning football players seated on the visitors’ bench had their backs to the wall every bit as much as baseball outfielders anticipating a Babe Ruth home-run shot.
Not all, however, was comfortable for football fans at League Park. In November 1945, temporary wooden bleachers erected in right-center field to accommodate a sellout crowd collapsed as the Rams were downing the defending NFL champion Green Bay Packers, 20 to 7. One ticket-holder was taken away with a broken leg while others simply took in the rest of the game from along the sidelines. According to a jocular account in the Rams’ “1946 Guide for Press and Radio,” many thought the cave-in was caused by a missed tackle by fan favorite Riley “Rattlesnake” Matheson — at 6’2″, 210 pounds an eccentric and then-beefy defensive guard who just a few weeks later smashed a Redskin back’s nose on the very first play of the NFL title game.